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Bone nut, saddle but what about pins?


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I have occasionally heard people say plastic pins are "tone robbers" and if you are going to go bone nut and saddle you should go all the way and get bone pins too. Just curious how many of you went full bone? At first, i was thinking of going just bone nut and saddle, but there is a real temptation to go all out and get bone pins too.

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I have Colossi saddles, nuts and pins on a few of my acoustics, but after much experimentation I went with the fossilized walrus ivory on all parts. For me, I definitely noticed a warmer sustain with the FWI material instead of generic bone. If I remember right, it was a few bucks more, but I really believe I got more bang for my buck with the ivory replacements. Got the 4mm abalone inlay on the pins and it looks nice, too:)

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I'm sure there are folks who will wish to loudly disagree, but I think there are various reasons to change one's pins but tone isn't really one of them.

 

First, the pins themselves aren't touching the vibrating string that is making the note. It's not like a violin or banjo "mute" that attaches to the bridge, but more a sort of "tailpiece" as in an solid or semi-hollow electric's stopbar tailpiece. The difference is that a pin bridge offers a passage through the top.

 

I'm not at all certain that the pin bridge is "better" in any sense than a floating bridge/tailpiece such as on the old Selmer flattops, archtops and many others, or somewhat "worse" in handling tone.

 

For absolute "tone freaks," look to the classical guitarist whose bridge has strings tied behind the saddle to a part of the bridge itself. Does a pin bridge negate that sort of factor, make it "better" or "worse?"

 

What it comes down to is that some folks are utterly convinced that adding this or that will make a huge difference in how their guitar will sound. I'll wager that a sonic analysis of this or that sort of pin, unlike that of a bridge or nut, would show little or no difference. In fact, what is the "science" to show much of any difference in "tone" regardless of type of pin used? I'm guessing that a case might be made for a much heavier pin, such as a brass batch, having an effect, but without documentation.

 

I guess I figure if you want to change the color, there's a good reason to spend little more than a pack of strings on appearance.

 

In fact, given the price tag, if it makes one feel better about the instrument, by all means do so.

 

m

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I'm sure there are folks who will wish to loudly disagree, but I think there are various reasons to change one's pins but tone isn't really one of them.

 

First, the pins themselves aren't touching the vibrating string that is making the note. It's not like a violin or banjo "mute" that attaches to the bridge, but more a sort of "tailpiece" as in an solid or semi-hollow electric's stopbar tailpiece. The difference is that a pin bridge offers a passage through the top.

 

I'm not at all certain that the pin bridge is "better" in any sense than a floating bridge/tailpiece such as on the old Selmer flattops, archtops and many others, or somewhat "worse" in handling tone.

 

For absolute "tone freaks," look to the classical guitarist whose bridge has strings tied behind the saddle to a part of the bridge itself. Does a pin bridge negate that sort of factor, make it "better" or "worse?"

 

What it comes down to is that some folks are utterly convinced that adding this or that will make a huge difference in how their guitar will sound. I'll wager that a sonic analysis of this or that sort of pin, unlike that of a bridge or nut, would show little or no difference. In fact, what is the "science" to show much of any difference in "tone" regardless of type of pin used? I'm guessing that a case might be made for a much heavier pin, such as a brass batch, having an effect, but without documentation.

 

I guess I figure if you want to change the color, there's a good reason to spend little more than a pack of strings on appearance.

 

In fact, given the price tag, if it makes one feel better about the instrument, by all means do so.

 

m

Hi milod, thanks for the input. Out of curiosity,Do you feel the same about the nut and saddle? Or do you believe that there is tonal difference upgrading those to bone?

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I think you can make a really good case about a "better quality," well-done nut and bridge making change to tone. The caveat is whether it's properly made. A poorly-cut and/or installed nut or bridge IMHO can cause more problems than they solve. Assuming well-cut and installed, I think it likely that assuming the same strings, there likely will be a difference. But the "well cut and installed" can be interesting.

 

For example, there's a thread in the Gibson LP side of the forums about difficulty with a new high-end Les Paul nut binding. Comments there are that it's "typical" of Gibsons. Note that it doesn't talk quality of material or installation, just a difficulty with a new nut and factory strings. What of string gauge? Perfection of the cut to ensure proper intonation? Etc.

 

The problem to me on some of this, too, is that when we install, or have these installed, we also end up with a new set of strings too. So even if we had a way of documentation/proving "change" due to bridge and nut, tell me how one is comparing apples to apples afterward? Frankly after spending X dollars on this or that change, I'd not wish to believe it didn't have value.

 

Then too, what is "better" tone as I remember it from yesterday or last week? Is it in having more highs? Mids? Lows? More apparent sustain?

 

I think some of the "dump the plastic bridge pins" comes from replacement with just plain better quality cut of the pins to match up to hold better internal contact and therefore more of a "together" bridge assembly as it affects the top.

 

So... I don't wanna sound like an old grouch, and I'm all in favor of guitars that make folks happy. But I think a lot of times we don't necessarily consider all the variables. On an archtop, I tend to like a TOM bridge for intonation purposes. but if the base isn't quite right, etc., it's going to "cost" some. Ditto the base on an ebony or rosewood archtop bridge. Or a metal bar bridge. Ain't changed any of that stuff since 1980 on any sort of guitar (or mandolin or banjo) unless something broke.

 

I'm also convinced in the power of proper setup with given strings and the player's technique; and the power of technique to vary and change the tone.

 

OTOH, I've noticed through the years that sometimes there are variables in quality of bridge and bridge saddle cut and installation, and ditto on the nut. I'm convinced that the zero fret is largely to accommodate variations in quality of the nut - not so much material, but accurate cut for given strings and matchup/installation with the fingerboard and neck. Frets in ways are easier to get in the right place.

 

I guess what I'm saying is that to me, if it ain't broke, I'm not going to worry about trying to fix it. OTOH, sometimes there can be faults in a new instrument or through age on an older instrument. My non-dayjob time on guitar is mostly taken up by playing.

 

m

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"An over $2000 guitar has plastic pins, but a $1200 guitar has ebony ones."

 

That is pretty humorous. Unlike a lot of players i didnt mind their artificial fretboards like on my D-16rgt but someday hope to get an ebony fretboard git. Whether it be electric or acoustic, as of yet ive never had anything ebony.

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One of the many things I immediately liked about my Guild Orpheum 12 fret slope dread, conceived and produced when Ren Ferguson went to Guild, was that there was nothing I felt compelled to replace on the guitar. It was deemed by the powers that were at time (guys that know what they were doing), that a high end guitar should be equipped with a bone nut, bone saddle and bone pins. How novel and..right! The only thing I did have to do was put a strap pin at my location of choice on the heel. That's it. It's the first guitar I've purchased that has it all going on, from the beginning. My J-50 sports Colosi plain bone pins and I think it sounds better for it.

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I always use wooden bridge pins. Any kind. Boxwood, ebony, whaterver. I can't see how adding a slight bit more of wood to a wooden guitar can't but ever so slightly help its tone. I notice an ever so slight difference that I like with wood over other bridge materials. But, its a personal thang to each guitar player.

 

Just my two cents.

 

Jazzman Jeff aka QM

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I question the use of plastic of any kind on any acoustic guitar. It's inherent properties tend to dampen any vibration.

 

I have often wondered if my Balladeer would sound even louder without the cheap plastic Ovation rosette.

 

 

This subject has been discussed at length in the Gibson Acoustic forum.

 

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I fine-tune my acoustic guitars with pin-material. Bone, horn, wood and plast. Bone often used as bass amplifiers, sometimes midtone as well.

As I'm not so keen on over-bright highs, I normally use wood or horn - even plastic there.

 

Board-member EA is a nuanced listener and claims his Hummingbird provides more glaze with plastic pins.

I tend to follow him. Just reinstalled the original plastics on 2 of my Birds and the nectar instantly dripped stronger. On one of them I went back and forth to zoom-check.

 

Pardon, DenverSteve, but have to say that claiming pins are of no sonic effect, is an expression of limited hearing, , , or rather rustic playing, , , fx intense 1-way strumming.

Playing styles that include single-note separation such as flat/fingerpicking, clearly shows the difference of various materials.

 

Can be heared on the very nature of the notes and the sound-fountain they generate in flock - but you have to train the ears to sense it. . .

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I get a kick out of the discussion on grounds mentioned above, and I'll add a bit about well-fitted to pins.

 

I have yet to hear of a scientific study indicating differences in tone specifically from pins. Even if the same strings were used, the point of loosening and re-tightening them would have some effect. Changing strings entirely yet another.

 

Also there is the similar question whether a pin-less bridge might be of benefit or not. For those who say "not," I simply point to $30,000 classical guitars with tied-on strings.

 

If anything, I think it's almost odd that I've also not read of an add-on to replace a pin bridge attachment with a gadget using the holes, but then allowing a more or less straight through attachment not dissimilar to some gadgets used on wrap-around bridge design electric guitars so the string angle is more similar to that of a tailpiece such as is common on archtops - and the Selmer-type designs such as used by Django.

 

I guess my cynicism arises because there's no question in anyone's mind that even new strings replacing slightly-used strings will change the tone of a guitar - but so will placing the picking technique closer or farther from the bridge. A nut or saddle made of "X material" will not usually be as pleasing a tone if poorly cut and/or installed and probably not as pleasing as another choice. We'll all agree to those variables.

 

My perspective, I'll add, goes to the electric players who insist on this or that as absolutely necessary for good tone - without necessarily describing how, or with scientifically documented why.

 

Mother Maybelle used those horridly large gauge strings because they fit how and what she played. I've never once heard her say they were for tone per se - and she gave the the honor of letting me try to play the doggone thing.

 

Never read where Doc Watson determined his guitars wouldn't sound right until he changed bridge pin materials.

 

It's fine by me for both electric and acoustic pickers to search for a holy grail, and I'll admit I don't sound as good on some guitars as I do on others given a number of variables, some the guitar and some my playing style on a given sort of instrument/string/setup.

 

But I keep coming back to the critical variable being the player, his/her technique and the strings on a given guitar.

 

m

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Mother Maybelle used those horridly large gauge strings because they fit how and what she played. I've never once heard her say they were for tone per se - and she gave the the honor of letting me try to play the doggone thing.

 

Never read where Doc Watson determined his guitars wouldn't sound right until he changed bridge pin materials.

 

I never heard sir Matt Busby talk about sweepers, liberos, this or that advanced tactic.

 

Never heard A. Hitchcock mention meta-levels, historic reference or theatrical quotes regarding a scene or a film.

 

Like I never heard my grandpa distinguish between good, bad, healthy or chemical salami.

 

Didn't even hear one single person talk about the interior of an acoustic guitar, bracings, mass, bridge-plates since, , , well, relatively recently.

 

These things'n'themes just weren't in the times, , , , but times are known to change. . .

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I can speak omly about what I hear.15 months ago I bought a Gibson J35.8 months ago my luthier changed the tusk nut&saddle with bone.This led to a really big change of the sound of the instrument.The guitar stayed one more month with the plastic pins.When I changed the plastic pins with bone pins there was another conciderable change of the sound.I can tell you that with plastic parts my J35 sounded "plastic".Now it sounds "bone" and I love that, because this is the natural sound for me.

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I've never gone out and bought bone pins, saddle, etc. I've pretty much always played the guitar as I received it. I do like the look of some of the bone pins. Don't know how much it helps the tone, if it does. Again, it depends on who you ask........Just a question----what if the sound the builder is going for is the sound you get with the pins/saddle/bridge of the original material? What if Taylor uses plastic pins on a model because that material works best for the voicing of the guitar? What if Gibson uses a tusk saddle instead of bone for the same reasons? Perhaps there are reasons for using a specific material beyond it being cheaper. Personally, if a guitar doesn't sound good to me at the start, it's not likely I'll buy it. Certainly, it's all up to the owner.

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Just a question----what if the sound the builder is going for is the sound you get with the pins/saddle/bridge of the original material?

Agree, , , and I'm almost sure 90 % of the beat-music with acoustic guitars in my record collection was made with plastic pins.

 

But as said in the former post, it wasn't a topic in the golden age of R'n'R'n'folk.

 

No doubt a good acoustic guitar sounds good with plastic pins, but it shouldn't keep people from experimenting.

It's fun and a nice opportunity to add a personal touch to the instrument.

 

I know some master-chefs wrinkle their faces at the thought of guests sprinkling extra salt and pepper over the meal, but I won't follow that demand.

It's like tuning on the bass/treb knob on the stereo - a little chance to join in and receive the 'product' with ones personal touch.

So change pins or keep them if you like - even carve your own if it makes you feel better.

Regarding the saddle and nut, it's all the same.

 

 

Finally, Missourip - can you explain why guitars - also from Bozeman - go from plast to bone saddle/nuts when they reach a certain level.

Would that be nothing but a sales-psychological trick, , , and cheap way to excuse the higher tag. . .

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Finally, Missourip - can you explain why guitars - also from Bozeman - go from plast to bone saddle/nuts when they reach a certain level.

Would that be nothing but a sales-psychological trick, , , and cheap way to excuse the higher tag. . .

 

You are on to something there. At the time of the build, the incremental cost to the builder of bone saddle and nut is probably not more than a couple of dollars, and pins might add $10. Installation cost identical for all the parts, but you could probably upcharge $75-$100 just for those changes.

 

Ahh, marketing.....

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Fit of the pins could be important; perhaps also weight assuming that additional weight might dampen the top a bit, therefore a bit more mellow tone.

 

But again, how often is such a change made without loosening and/or replacing the strings?

 

Archtops and such as the old Selmers have a tailpiece attached to the back of the instrument and mostly floating bridges either wood or a variation of the TOM. There's some conversation about "which is best," but there again, most will agree it's subjective and also, strings are at minimum loosened for such a shift. I did find that an all metal "tube" gave a bit different sound compared to wood or a TOM; the wood bridge seems to absorb some of the high end and the TOM seems to absorb less giving a somewhat less warm sound.

 

Still, I've yet to see anything "scientific" about changes in bridge pins. One might make a case that a less dense wood and bridge saddle might make a difference in tone; ditto open strings with a nut of different density. But a look at how a pin bridge is made would make one wonder only about two factors: whether the pin is solid in the hole, and whether it has then sufficient mass to make a difference in the top vibrations.

 

m

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Still, I've yet to see anything "scientific" about changes in bridge pins.

 

This one should be sent further to B. Colosi. .

 

One might make a case that a less dense wood and bridge saddle might make a difference in tone; ditto open strings with a nut of different density. But a look at how a pin bridge is made would make one wonder only about two factors: whether the pin is solid in the hole, and whether it has then sufficient mass to make a difference in the top vibrations.

 

But direct string contact very close to the box there certainly is. .

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Fit of the pins could be important; perhaps also weight assuming that additional weight might dampen the top a bit, therefore a bit more mellow tone.

 

But again, how often is such a change made without loosening and/or replacing the strings?

 

Archtops and such as the old Selmers have a tailpiece attached to the back of the instrument and mostly floating bridges either wood or a variation of the TOM. There's some conversation about "which is best," but there again, most will agree it's subjective and also, strings are at minimum loosened for such a shift. I did find that an all metal "tube" gave a bit different sound compared to wood or a TOM; the wood bridge seems to absorb some of the high end and the TOM seems to absorb less giving a somewhat less warm sound.

 

Still, I've yet to see anything "scientific" about changes in bridge pins. One might make a case that a less dense wood and bridge saddle might make a difference in tone; ditto open strings with a nut of different density. But a look at how a pin bridge is made would make one wonder only about two factors: whether the pin is solid in the hole, and whether it has then sufficient mass to make a difference in the top vibrations.

 

m

 

 

It's easy to prove "Scientifically."

You buy two identical sets of strings.

You use plastic pins for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd string positions and use bone pins for the 4th, 5th and 6th string locations.

You put the two 5th (A) strings in positions for the 1st and 6th strings.

You put the two 3rd (G) strings in the positions for the 2nd and 5th strings/

You put the two 1st strings (E) in the positions for the 3rd and 4th strings.

You compare the three strung up with plastic pins to the same three strung up with bone pins.

You decide for yourself, based on your own ears - and our ears/hearing all vary - which of the two test sets is better - the plastic or the bone.

No, I haven't done this - I have Colosi bone pins on all 3 of my Gibson acoustics. To me it's a no brainer.

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Almost as a matter of course and certainly mainly for aesthetic reasons, I changed the plastic pins on my Hummingbird Pro for bone.

It certainly made a difference to the tone but not one I liked.

I was back to plastic after a few days.

I guess it's very much a question of personal taste.

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